As we hit the last week of Pride month, I want to talk about two similar – but different – movies around the experience of coming out: Alex Strangelove and Love, Simon. Spoilers for both abound on down the page, so the trailers for both are first…
Right, so with that out of the way…
Both of these are really sweet movies, and unlike so damn many gay coming out stories, things end up turning out … well, okay… in the end.
Both of these films focus not on “society doesn’t accept me”, but on the personal struggle with coming out and being your own person. This kind of deeply personal coming out story is a refreshing and heartwarming change-up. Simon actually states at one point that he’s sure his family and friends would accept him, but he ends up letting himself be blackmailed over his sexuality anyway. Alex is so tormented by the idea of possibly being gay that he lives in huge amounts of self-denial. Predictably, these young men go out of their way to preserve their secrets (even if it’s only from themselves), and hurt people close to them along the way.
It’s hard to quantify pain; both of the protagonists do some deeply shitty things in order to hide their queerness. Their motivations are (somewhat?) different, but the distress they cause to those around them is the same. This is particularly true of the women who are in love with the protagonists: whether actually dating the guy or not, the anguish these young women face down is largely papered over. There’s a joke in Love, Simon that hits hard here just after Simon comes out: “Did you date me because I look like a boy?” “No, I stopped dating you because you didn’t look enough like a boy.” Maybe it’s because I have known women in this situation; the damage isn’t really funny.
That’s not the protagonist’s fault, though. It’s the fault of society for not accepting all of us for who we are, and not communicating that clearly.
Though my sweetie’s preference is the opposite of mine, I preferred Love, Simon for two reasons.
First, from the trailer, I was expecting Alex Strangelove to be a bisexual coming-out story, and that was something I was really looking forward to seeing. When it instead became a gay coming out story, I felt disappointed and somewhat misled. With bi-erasure being a real thing (real enough that 4chan trolls picked up on it), I was really hoping for something more there. (Also, where are the lesbian coming out movies that fit this mold? Is it because of the crappy male gaze that we’re denied female representation here?)
Second, Love, Simon does something remarkable: It both mocks the traditional grand romantic gesture, while also supplying a NON toxic grand romantic gesture at the end. Given the amount of toxic crap from John Hughes movies I’ve had to pull out of my head, seeing a way that the grand romantic gesture could be de-toxified and reclaimed really moved me.
Despite my critique, both films are funny, heartwarming, and fun. You can see Alex Strangelove on Netflix streaming now, and Love, Simon is available to rent streaming.